Some powerful forces are changing the technology landscape — and putting more control into the hands of business users. One such force is the so-called “consumerization” of IT. Business people are using their personal smartphones and tablets for business applications. As consumers, these individuals are more comfortable with technology than ever before, and are bringing the technology tools they’re familiar with into the workplace.
The other force is cloud computing. The cloud provides instant access to sophisticated yet user-friendly technology that can be paid for by a monthly subscription. This anytime, anywhere access to applications and data can be a real boon to business, making organizations more productive, agile and responsive. And because employees are accustomed to buying IT services for their personal mobile devices, they often procure cloud services on their own.
As these changes continue to take shape, many organizations are confused about the distinction between cloud computing and managed services, and the role of managed services in this new environment. Cloud computing is an economic and operational model for obtaining IT services. Managed services — or “outsourced IT” as we call it — refers to the outsourcing of an organization’s technology processes to a service provider. Outsourced IT could refer to some or all of the following:
- server maintenance and updates
- backup/archival services
- remote monitoring
- help desk services
- mobile device management
- and many other services
There is overlap, of course, given that cloud providers take on many of those tasks as part of the operational aspect of cloud computing. If, for example, you were to use a cloud email service rather than purchasing and managing your own email server, the cloud provider takes responsibility for all the processes necessary to ensure the availability and performance of the email system. You simply consume an IT service known as email and pay for what you use.
But even if your organization relies upon cloud computing for some or most of its technology resources, managed services are still necessary. The technology processes needed to keep your IT environment up and running do not go away. In fact, network monitoring and management become even more critical as the network becomes your lifeline to cloud applications and data. And the endpoint devices used to access the network — be they smartphones, tablets, laptops or traditional PCs — require ongoing maintenance and support.
Which brings us back to the “consumerization” concept: When users are capable of buying, configuring and troubleshooting technology, why do they need managed services?
End-user support is a key value that managed services can bring to the organization. It enables line-of-business users to focus on their core competencies rather than managing the technology tools they use to accomplish those tasks. It minimizes the productivity drain that comes with downtime and connectivity issues. And it reduces risk by ensuring that endpoint devices are secure and compliant.
Finally, there is the question of strategy. A true outsourced IT solution will include a “virtual CIO” component in which the service provider’s experts become involved in developing an overarching technology strategy. This involves understanding the customer’s business requirements, recommending technology solutions that best meet those requirements and ensuring that those solutions work together to create a cohesive whole. The typical line-of-business user simply does not have the background, perspective or industry knowledge to make those kinds of decisions without input from IT professionals.
In many organizations, business users are gaining greater control over the technology domain, and that can have both a positive and negative effect on IT strategy. Mobile devices and the cloud put more power in the hands of end-users but do not eliminate the need for robust IT processes and expert support. As technology becomes ever-more-critical to success, organizations need outsourced IT services that help deliver on the promise of today’s technology tools.